Q: “I seem to do well in practice and qualifying but when it comes down to competition, I choke. The only time when I actually did well was when I was extremely dehydrated and on the point of passing out. All I wanted to do was finish the runs and get out the car. I’m guessing I was in the mindset of fight or flight and not really caring about the results. But in turn I podiumed with the best drivers/cars in my series. Do you have any tips, podcast, books or just some insight you can recommend on driver mentality? I seem to get too into my head and it’s tough to get out.”
A: Do I have any resources to help with your mental game? Do I! My Ultimate Speed Secrets book has multiple chapters aimed at helping drivers perform at their best when it matters – the mental game. Also, my Inner Speed Secrets 201 eCourse (https://speedsecrets.com/learn/) is a more interactive way of learning much of the content in my book.
But I bet you wanted a more immediate answer to your question than that, right? Okay, without copying entire chapters of my book or the eCourse here, let me suggest a few things.
First, a core concept to understand is that you do what you do because you’re programmed to do so. The way you walk, talk and turn the steering wheel is a result of your mental programming – or what we often refer to as a habit. At the same time, sometimes you don’t do what you want because you don’t have the right mental programming yet, or you’ve accessed the wrong program (made a mistake). With a physical skill, we think of these programs as “muscle memory.”
The fact that you can perform at a high level in practice and qualifying means that you have the mental programming to do so in a race. It’s then a matter of consistently accessing it, and the best way of doing so is to “trigger” it. If you build a trigger to launch the right mental program at the right time, you’ll perform at your best more often. Of course, since you’re human, you will make a mistake every now and then (even the best drivers in the world make mistakes).
Imagine performing at your very best, driving at your best. Better still, recall a time in the past when you did that. It could be in a practice or qualifying session, or whenever. Replay it in your mind, and as you do, think of a word or phrase that comes to mind that reminds you of this experience. That’s your new trigger for your best race performance. Repeat it over and over again as you imagine driving at your best. Now imagine saying that word/phrase at the beginning of a race, and then driving at your best. The “old you” may have choked, but the “new you” doesn’t. You have a strategy to ensure that you perform at your best in races.
Then the next time you come to a race at the track, replay that past great performance in your mind just beforehand, saying your trigger word/phrase over and over again, and then just go out and drive. Keep in mind why you’re doing this: to have fun! And trust that you will drive at your best.
Interestingly, you mentioned performing well when you were not feeling well due to dehydration (don’t let that happen again!). It’s not unusual for a driver to drive better than usual when they’re not feeling well. Why? Because they stop thinking, and just drive. They’re not thinking about the result – just on the act of driving and surviving. And there’s a big lesson to be learned from that…